Rio Ferdinand has hailed the performance of Kobbie Mainoo after he starred in Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Everton at the weekend.
While this was not Mainoo’s Premier League debut — that came in the form of a 10-minute cameo against Leicester in February — it was the teenager’s first start in the top flight. Mainoo was thrown into the starting XI with the likes of Casemiro, Mason Mount and Christian Erikson injured, forming a midfield duo alongside Scott McTominay.
It was a decision many heralded but it was still a bit of a surprise, with Sofyan Amrabat and Donny van de Beek on the bench. Amrabat was specifically signed to help with Man Utd’s defensive midfield problems, while Van de Beek was a favourite of Erik ten Hag at Ajax.
But for those who hadn’t watched Mainoo before, it soon became clear why he was preferred to start.
The teenager played 72e minutes before coming off for Amrabat, having 61 touches of the ball and completed 38 of his 46 attempted passes. No starter for Man Utd had a better passing accuracy than Mainoo, and only Facundo Pellistri was more accurate among those with at least 10 passes attempted.
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Mainoo also had six final third entries, won five duels and made two interceptions as well as completing a match-high two take-ons. He alone completed as many take-ons as Everton’s whole team.
Another teenager earned more of the plaudits, as Alejandro Garnacho was named Man of the Match for his contribution, which included the opening goal via a bicycle kick that some are already putting down as a shoo-in for Goal of the Season. But former Man Utd defender Rio Ferndinand was bemused that Mainoo didn’t get the award.
“I don’t know how they gave the Man of the Match elsewhere,” he said on Vibe With Five.
“Eighteen years old, especially centre midfield, very rarely do you see a composed performance like that. Away from home it’s crash, bang, wallop at Everton at Goodison under the circumstances they went there.
“The way he was dropping in between the centre-backs, not even getting it and bopping it one or two touch, he was getting it, taking touches, drifting by people or away from people, away from the challenge and the press, and then releasing it. That’s what these centre-backs and goalkeeper have been waiting for – someone who can alleviate that pressure and beat that press.”
Ferdinand also likened the composure of teenage Mainoo on the ball to that of Cesc Fabregas when he first broke into the Arsenal team. Aged just 17 at the time, Fabregas became a regular feature of Arsenal’s side in the 2004/05 season following an injury to Patrick Vieira, playing before he even signed a professional contract.
Fabregas would go on to captain Arsenal and become integral to their team, before winning the Premier League title with Chelsea in the latter stages of his career. And while Ferdinand was quick to emphasise that he was not comparing Mainoo’s ability to Fabregas’, he did admit to being reminded of the former Arsenal man when watching Man Utd’s teenager play.
He added: “I thought about it the other day, 18-year-olds coming into the first team in the Premier League who gave performances like that… Fabregas? I’m not saying he is as good as these guys, there have been more explosive but I’m talking about composure. This was a crazy performance.”
And when asked if Mainoo now has a starting spot over Amrabat, Ferdinand replied: “At the moment, yeah. Fundamentals, he [Mainoo] does the fundamentals well. But listen, it’s one game, let’s not go too overboard, we need to see this consistently.”